Does your teen groan at the thought of sitting down to write?
Or maybe they’ve always wanted to write a story, but have no idea where to start?
Fear not, because today we’ve gathered five exciting exercises that are sure to spark ideas in even the most reluctant high schooler!
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5 Creative Exercises to Get Your High Schooler Writing
1. Try Fanfic
Often, the most intimidating thing about writing is coming up with everything yourself. Even adults can be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task — after all, you need not just a plot and an interesting setting, but you’ve also got to invent whole people out of thin air!
For years, fan fiction has been a way to break through that wall. By building off preexisting characters, worlds, and events, teens can dip their toe into the world of writing without the pressure of starting from scratch.
So for this exercise, have your teen pick a book, TV show, or movie they love, and invite them to imagine a single scene with the characters from that story.
The first time around, encourage them not to worry about things like plot, description, or even the quality of the writing — tell them to focus on the characters they know and love instead.
They should try to make sure the characters think, speak, and act like they do onscreen or in the pages of the book.
If that goes well, try asking them to write another scene, but this time focus more on description and conveying the scene using imagery and other literary devices.
Then have them write another, this time focusing on plot, or even something more subtle like themes.
They can repeat this as many times as they’d like, concentrating on something new each time. (And of course, once they get really into it, they may even want to write a whole story!)
2. Write Instapoetry
Literary critics might not always be fans, but you can’t fault Instapoets for sparking a wave of poetry mania in a whole new generation.
Instagram superstars like Rupi Kaur, Atticus, and Alicia Cook are rocking the poetry landscape, proving that good poetry doesn’t need to be inaccessible to the general public.
For this exercise, first have your teen read through some of the most popular Instapoetry accounts to get a feel for how it’s done.
Then invite them to make a list of which common elements they noticed. This can include length of the lines and poems, a distinct style of writing, certain themes, or anything else that strikes them.
If they’re already inspired, they can start writing their own poetry immediately. Or if they’re still a little hesitant, have them list out some of the feelings, ideas, and subjects that inspire them.
Then ask them to write the first line that comes to mind on those topics.
Don’t worry if it’s too simple or doesn’t “feel like poetry” at first — the point is just to get their thoughts down, allowing the language to flow naturally from their emotions.
Just keep going.
Most of Instapoetry is free-verse anyway, so it’s a perfect entry point for beginning writers.
As a bonus, your teen can also get visually creative. Drawings and photo backgrounds that set the mood are great ways of displaying these new poems, so feel free to let them go wild.
3. Outline with MICE
No, we’re not talking about the talking mice of Cinderella (though wouldn’t that be useful)!
Instead, this exercise uses the MICE Quotient.
MICE was invented by Orson Scott Card, and it breaks down plots into four basic concepts:
• Milieu: A story concerning the place where it’s set
• Idea: A story about the information your readers will learn
• Character: A story focusing on an aspect of someone’s personality/backstory
• Event: A story centering on a turning point
All stories will have at least two of these aspects (and many will contain all four), but finding the main plot of your story is usually about identifying which of these is most important.
Have your teen brainstorm a one-sentence plot or premise. Then ask them to plot out what would happen if they focused mainly on where the story is taking place.
How does the setting shape the events that unfold from there?
Then try it again, but this time have them focus on the idea.
What kinds of questions does the premise raise, and how can you answer them in a satisfying way? (Tip: don’t give everything away too quickly. The longer you avoid directly answering the central question, the more plot you’ll get out of it.)
Next, try the characters.
Tell your teen to dive deep into the backstory that shaped these characters, and ask what kinds of personal choices they’d make in each new situation they encounter.
This time, let their choices drive the plot.
Lastly, try centering the plot around a singular event.
What is the biggest moment that arises from your premise?
How did it come to be, and what are the natural consequences that your character will deal with?
This will also help them hone in on the inciting incident.
4. Recreate a Movie Scene
For this exercise, have your teen pick any scene from their favorite movie.
Let them watch it at least once, observing all the details it contains.
What kind of lighting is present?
How are the characters dressed, and what emotions appear on their faces?
What does the setting look like, even the smallest elements of set design?
What sounds other than dialogue can be heard?
Next, ask them to try filling in the sensory details a movie lacks.
What kind of smells might be present?
How hot or cold is it?
Are there any tastes?
What kind textures are beneath the character’s touch?
Now it’s time to start writing.
From the top, have your teen recreate the scene as faithfully as they’re able, making sure to include visual, auditory, and other sensory details.
Try to have them describe everything as specifically as possible; their scene shouldn’t just be a laundry list of sights and sounds.
Indeed, scene description is a great opportunity to be creative!
Metaphors, symbolism, and clever wordplay are all perfect for adding flair to an otherwise boring list of features.
5. Write a Book Review
One of the best ways to learn what makes good writing is by studying things that have already been written.
Sure, your teen may have enjoyed the last book they read, but do they really know why certain things worked — and others didn’t?
Figure out the last three books your teen read, and ask them to really sit and think about what resonated with them.
Was it the characters? If so, what about them?
Did they like the language?
Was it funny?
On the flip side, it’s also important to break down where a book didn’t land.
What could the author have done differently?
Have them write it all down in a book review.
By identifying both good and bad traits, even of a book they absolutely love, your teen will grow to understand what they should try to emulate vs. avoid the next time they sit down to write.
In time, writing will even make them sharper readers — which will, in turn, reveal still more they can learn from their favorite books.
And one day, they might just be inspired to write a book of their very own.